Global City Lab releases “2021 Global Top 500 Cities”

New York, London, and Tokyo claim top three.
The United States and China lead with 63 and 40 cities, respectively.

What effect has the COVID-19 pandemic had on the brand value of the world’s greatest cities? To find out, Global City Lab compiled the “Global Top 500 Cities,” released on December 30, 2021, in New York. The report reveals that New York is the world’s most valuable city, with a brand value of $2.04 trillion (all figures are in US dollars). London passed Tokyo to claim second place with a brand value of $1.90 trillion. Tokyo’s value dropped 5.37%, putting it third with a value of $1.78 trillion. Paris, Singapore, and Sydney also have brand values surpassing $1 trillion. Los Angeles, Toronto, Shanghai and Hong Kong complete the Top 10, the latter ranking 9th and 10th respectively. The report found that blockchain and crypto are influencing the future of the city.

A city’s brand represents its comprehensive strength. It affects a city’s development potential because it influences the flow of capital, information, goods, and talent. Therefore, evaluating a city’s brand value will provide a clearer understanding of a city. Global City Lab is the world’s first professional organization dedicated to evaluating city brand values. It calculates brand values using six metrics: economic growth, culture, governance, environment, talent, and reputation. Global City Lab publishes its “Global Top 500 Cities” report annually.

The threshold for the 2021 “Global Top 500 Cities” list is $18.06 billion, down from $18.51 billion in 2020; its second consecutive fall. Six cities have brand values of more than $1 trillion, versus five in 2020. There are 18 cities with brand values of between $500 billion and $1 trillion, and 162 cities whose values range from $100 to $500 billion. More than 60% of the cities assessed have brand values of less than $100 billion. The average brand value of the top 500 cities in 2021 is $141.94 billion, an increase of 0.5% from the 2020 average of $141.22 billion.

The 500 cities are distributed across six continents, though Europe, Asia, and North America account for over 80%. Europe topped the list of regions, adding two cities to reach a total of 179. Asia and North America lost one and three cities, dropping to 154 and 90, respectively. The remaining three regions each have a similar number of cities on the list.

Major world regions are in the process of economic recovery in the post-pandemic era. Recovery rates are disparate due to diverse government policies, pandemic prevention propaganda concepts and economic development models. Economically developed areas have proved more resilient and, with the reactivation of urban economic life, recovery has stepped into the normal. The average brand value of European and North American cities fell by 1.06% and 1.08% respectively, a significant slowdown from 2020. Thanks to effective control of the pandemic, Asia was more stable; average brand value only declined by 0.85%.

The top 500 cities are distributed across 125 countries. The United States ranks first with 63 cities, and China second with 40. Japan, the United Kingdom, Germany, and India are ranked third to sixth. Five of the Top 10 countries are in Europe, thanks to its well-preserved cultural architecture, distinctive landscapes, and solid economic foundations. As the global COVID-19 situation eases, many countries which had closed their borders are reopening to tourists. Trade and cultural exchange between countries are returning to normal. Europe has always enjoyed the benefits of globalization due to open communication between countries, but it has also been under greater pressure to control the pandemic. For city decision makers, managing relationships between cities, surrounding metropolitan areas and neighboring countries is key. They must also balance convenience and risk in the era of globalization and post-pandemic.

Just when it was hoped that vaccines would restore order, a new COVID-19 variant brought a new threat to urban development. Policymakers in cities around the world face many problems that have been exposed during the pandemic. For example, unequal distribution of resources has been magnified in the context of COVID-19, which has led to criticism and suspicion of urban management decisions. The diversity of cities is also an important source of inequality. Globalization and the Internet are accelerating urban diversification, especially in large, internationally prominent cities where cultures mingle. Urban policymakers should harness cultural diversity as a force for inclusive, open-minded development. This requires decision makers to treat social groups equally, listen to their demands, and formulate reasonable urban development plans for groups with different values.

With the continuous improvement of globalization, the transfer of capital and talent has become more frequent and convenient. A clear, cohesive city brand can not only facilitate the transfer of capital, technology, and other resources, but also be an important guide for the transfer. This intensifies global competition between city brands. Global City Lab believes: “From the perspective of brand strategy, urban brand value has the following characteristics and development trends: 1) The comprehensive strength of a city determines its brand value and elasticity; 2) The higher a city’s brand value, the more benefits it can bring to its stakeholders; 3) Cities with high brand values have surpassed some countries in terms of economic strength, popularity, and other attributes; 4) The competition for city brands is becoming a competition for emerging digital technologies such as big data, artificial intelligence and blockchain; 5) With the rapid spread of work from home during the pandemic, the importance of urban climate and environment for talent flow is increasing.”

City branding incorporates digital technology. Smart cities are moving away from us, while citizens and policymakers are embracing crypto cities. The number of cities experimenting with cryptocurrencies, DAO, and NFT is increasing. Haisen Ding, founder of Global City Lab, believes that from lotteries to land to ballots, it is increasingly possible to govern and promote cities with blockchain technology. Cities like San Francisco, Vancouver, and Amsterdam have cryptocurrency ATMs; many merchants accept cryptocurrency payments. Meanwhile, cities such as Austin, Miami and New York City have launched, or plan to launch, cryptocurrencies (city tokens).

Policymakers recognize the importance of having a competitive international city brand. City branding is a promising management tool. Global City Lab is a research, consulting and evaluation agency based in New York City. Its mission is to provide cities, enterprises, and non-profit organizations around the world with expert networking services, especially industry-wide and cross-sector assistance, in areas including urban planning, housing, environment, finance, branding, and public policy.